Speech of the Federal Chancellor at the commemorative State Act in remembrance of the Shoah
Honorable Mr President!
Ladies and gentlemen!
Exactly 80 years ago today, the troops of the German Wehrmacht marched into Austria. It marked the beginning of the Nazi reign of terror in our country.
For the Jewish population in particular, an unprecedented ordeal began, an ordeal which until today ashames and afflicts us.
On the very day the German troops entered Austria, fellow Jewish citizens became targets of persecution, humiliation and torture. It was the prelude to an unprecedented crime, the Shoah.
Eighteen months later, this regime plunged Europe and the world into the horrors of the Second World War, triggering one of the greatest tragedies in human history.
Like many of us living today, I only know of this time from reading history books. Yet even if we learn from books the facts about this time, we can only understand the true suffering that people experienced by talking with survivors.
I still remember well the first time I spoke with a survivor at school. As painful as it felt, as difficult as it was to understand at the time, it was so important in order to get a sense for the suffering of so many people.
Only in the last few years have I realized that my generation is one of the very last to be able to have such conversations.
Our generation has a responsibility to listen carefully to what happened, to take this lesson to heart and pass it on to future generations.
Something that also made a deep impression on me was meeting Marco Feingold. Born in 1913 in Austria-Hungary in a place that today belongs to Slovakia, he is a survivor of Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Dachau and Buchenwald.
He is celebrating his 105th birthday this year and I am extremely honoured that he has invited me to celebrate this birthday with him.
As painful and shameful as encountering survivors may be, so much can be learned from these conversations.
One of the things that I have realized in all these conversations is the following: "We are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we do not do".
And today we must also remember that there were many people in Austria who did nothing against National Socialism and far too many who even actively supported these horrors.
The film clips of the time show us enthusiastic women and men who welcomed the Nazi regime out of inner conviction.
Austria used to see itself as the first victim of National Socialism.
That is certainly true for all those who fought in the resistance, whom we cannot thank enough, and who will always be shining examples.
But . . . the ones who stood in such great numbers and celebrated in March 1938 in Heroes' Square were no victims.
The ones who watched and participated when their neighbours were robbed, expelled and murdered were no victims.
Remembering in an honest way means admitting the truth. At that time, many Austrians supported a system to which people with disabilities, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, people with different political views, resistance fighters and many more fell victim. Above all, this system murdered over 60,000 fellow Jewish citizens and displaced around 130,000 from their homes.
Ladies and gentlemen!
It took Austria a long time to be open and honest about its past.
We have realized that Austria was not only a victim, but also a perpetrator, and we have followed up on this realization with concrete actions. But Austria has looked away for too long and has fulfilled its historical responsibility too late.
The vast majority of the over 100,000 displaced Austrians were not invited to come back after the war. Disenfranchised and robbed, they were no longer welcome.
Many of those displaced have remained – in spite of everything – closely connected to their former home. One of them is Kurt Tutter, who has been advocating for years for a memorial site where all Jewish victims of the Shoah from Austria are remembered by name.
The Federal Government has therefore decided to support the creation of such a place of remembrance – a place of personal remembrance for the survivors, the descendants of the victims, but also for all of us. In this Commemorative Year in particular, we have made it our mission to face our past and to also remember the darker side of our history – the Nazi regime, the Shoah and the Second World War.
However, commemorating is not enough. We also have to learn from the past. And the most important lesson from the past is that we must actively protect our rule of law and our democratic core values, and fight each and every kind of extremism and intolerance.
I personally find it unfathomable that almost a century after the Shoah antisemitism still exists. Austria bears a special historical responsibility in this context: to support Jewish life in our country and to protect it against all forms of antisemitism.
Regardless of whether antisemitism has been present for a long time or whether it has just been imported, there must be no room for it in Austria – this is something for which we will fight every day.
However, our historical responsibility does not end at our borders. We also have a special responsibility to the State of Israel and the security needs of the Jewish people there– more than we have practiced in Austria in the past.
For only if Jews can live without restriction in peace and security can a "never forget" become a "never again".
Link: Original in German: "Rede von Bundeskanzler Sebastian Kurz anlässlich des Gedenkens an den 12. März 1938"